WH Smith was notified by outraged readers that pornographic material--titles that included incest, rape and beastiality--was being sold alongside children's books. This apparently occurred when someone typed in "daddy" or a similar word while searching for a kid's book. What they found instead were erotica and hardcore pornographic titles and covers, along with the innocent children's titles.
As a parent, I know I'd be horrified if this happened to me--or my child. I do agree that this needs to be addressed and remedied. But I am not in agreement over how this has affected the online bookstores involved. A mass exodus of titles are disappearing from Kobo, Amazon and BN, and unfortunately not all of the titles being deleted are even erotica or porn. Many innocent titles/authors have been caught in the crossfire.
WHSmith.co.uk now has a letter in place of their site. Here's an excerpt:
Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours. This is an industry wide issue impacting retailers that sell self published eBooks due to the explosion of self publishing, which in the main is good as it gives new authors the opportunity to get their content published. However we are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them.
It is our policy not to feature titles like those highlighted and we have processes in place to screen them out. We offer over one million titles through our eBooks partner Kobo, many of which are self-published titles. Due to the massive amount of self publishing a number of these titles have got through the screening process.
So now self-published titles are being targeted and deleted from retailers, and many don't even fall into the categories of erotica/porn. Thrillers, romance and other genres have been deleted. The entire catalog from the publishing platform Draft2Digital has been deleted from Kobo, according to sources.
Kobo has also taken a stance, and authors using Kobo Writing Life received an email. Here's a snippet:
In order to address the situation Kobo is taking the following steps:
1. We are removing titles in question from the Kobo platform.
2. We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible.
3. We are reviewing our policies and procedures to implement safeguards that will ensure this situation does not happen in the future.
All self-published authors now have to keep a close eye on their titles on these websites because ANY title could be quarantined for review. And God knows how long that will take.
I do agree that something needs to be done about this. I have already sent Kobo a letter, suggesting they consider putting filters on their website, tied into accounts with VISA/MC verification for age. Of course that doesn't stop a child from using their parent's account. But filters could be set up on an account, disabling all erotica, including blanking out titles and covers, site-wide, including bestseller lists. I don't have a problem with that as a user of Amazon, or any other book retailer.
Is this censorship? No. This is our responsibility. We should be in control of what we view while online. As for the titles that push the boundaries of what is classified as artistic erotica, I'm all for allowing those who enjoy that genre their freedoms. But adult erotica only, with consenting adult characters. There's a very fine line between erotica and hardcore porn, and the latter just doesn't belong on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, BN etc. It would be easy enough for retailers to create a separate website for this kind of material: AmaPorn, KoboPorn, SmashPorn, BNPorn. At least people would know exactly what they were getting.
I am somewhat disappointed that Smashwords hasn't spoken up publicly or on their blog about this problem. They could at least point out that they've tried to be a responsible retailer since they already have an adult filter on their website. I give them Kudos for that.
I also believe in WH Smith's right to sell what they want, what fits their ideals and their model. They are entitled to that right. But I am somewhat stunned that it took them this long to realize what they're actually selling. This is, indeed, a real shake up and wake up call for online bookstores.
Don't get me wrong. I'm no prude. I've read many novels that are erotic, and I'm a huge Game of Thrones fan (um...porn city!) But I'm an adult, and there's a place for it. And it's NOT next to Curious George kids' books or my YA novel Whale Song.
You can learn more about this situation at the following links:
What do you think about this situation? Do you think these kinds of books should be removed permanently from online retailers, or do you think a filtering system would be enough?